PROVO, Utah — On Christmas Eve in 1960, Elder Quentin L. Cook and his missionary companion, Elder Noel D. Luke, greeted people in their homes in Swindon, England, the area where they were tracting and leaving a brief Christmas message and blessing.
“As Christmas night enveloped us there was a surreal atmosphere in the heavens,” recalled Elder Cook, now a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “The clouds were low and there was intermittent rain, but the moon was breaking through, and its light was dispersed by the clouds and the moisture of the rain. It conveyed a feeling of both reverence and awe. The noise from the homes was full of that wonderful family interaction that is so representative of the best of Christmas.”
Suddenly that changed. “We realized that almost every house had tuned their television sets to the same station. Harry Secombe, a well-respected British entertainer, began to sing in a fine tenor voice ‘Bless This House.’”
The words of the beautiful song “ascended upward” and bounced off the low clouds “radiating as if from heaven back to Earth.”
An overwhelming feeling of peace and appreciation came over the missionaries. “I felt the love of Heavenly Father for all of His children and how the Savior’s birth, example and Atonement would bless all of their lives. Most of all I was grateful that I had been called as a missionary and emissary of the Savior to bless Father in Heaven’s children.”
Speaking during a special Christmas morning devotional in the Provo Missionary Training Center, Elder Cook recalled his first Christmas away from home as a young missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Honoring Elder Cook’s precious memory, the Dec. 25 devotional included a special performance of “Bless This House.” The special number, sung by an MTC choir and directed by Ryan Eggett, featured a solo by Dallyn Vail Bayles.
Elder Cook, who was accompanied at the MTC by his wife, Sister Mary Cook, titled his remarks “Christmas Message to Emissaries of the Savior.”
Elder Cook said a recent Sunday edition of the New York Times had a full-page article titled “Holiday Windows Return. Shoppers Do Too.” The article recounted how lavish window displays grace department store windows on Fifth Avenue in New York City.
Speaking of this tradition that has existed for many years, Elder Cook said as near as he could determine from the article, none of the windows featured Christmas scenes or the Christ child.
As he read the article, he recalled a story many years ago from the Midwest about a shopping mall that wanted to emphasize the Christmas theme to both create a Christmas feeling and attract customers. The mall put up a large banner that said, “If Christ came tonight, to whom would He come?” There were several scenes displayed in the store windows underneath the sign. Elder Cook said he if remembers the scenes correctly they depicted an elderly sick woman; a new mother with her baby; a poor family with a crying, hungry child; a wealthy family with numerous presents; and a humble family singing together.
Elder Cook said as he thought about the displays and banner, several things went through his mind. “First, we know that when the Savior comes for the second time, we will not know the day or the hour. When He comes, He will come to His temple. We read in the Doctrine and Covenants that He shall stand upon the Mount of Olives (Jerusalem), upon the islands of the sea and Zion. So, the banner might more properly have said, ‘If Christ came tonight, who would be prepared to greet Him?’”
Elder Cook said he also realized that the scenes communicated everything about the physical conditions of the people, but nothing about their spiritual conditions.
Christ was the example in all things, he added. “As we look at the condition of our spirits, we would do well to look at His perfect example.”
He offered several suggestions about how to look to the Savior’s example:
First, consider His miraculous birth.
“We know that He was the Only Begotten Son of the Father. He inherited the power of eternal life from His Father — the power to live,” said Elder Cook. “He inherited from His mortal mother the power to die. He was chosen from the beginning for His sacred mission.”
Second, ponder His perfect and sinless life and His example.
Elder Cook said though Christ suffered pains, afflictions and temptations of every kind, He successfully fulfilled His mission. “He was our exemplar and laid out the path that we should follow. He devoted His life to the poor, the needy, the sick and the afflicted, and the successful completion of the eternal plan for which He alone was qualified.”
Elder Cook said one of his favorite accounts in the scriptures is found in Luke 8. A woman, who had been ill for 12 years, had faith that if she touched the border of the Savior’s garment, she would be healed. As Jesus was walking along with a multitude of people, she got close enough to touch His garment and was immediately healed. The Savior was so sensitive that He asked, “Who touched me?” (Luke 8:43-56).
“I am amazed that the Savior’s spirit was so sensitive to the needs of others that He could feel His spirit responding to another’s need even when He was not consciously aware of that need.”
Third, contemplate His death, Resurrection and Atonement.
Many years ago, President Gordon B. Hinckley spoke of a Protestant minister who questioned him about the absence of crosses on our Latter-day Saint buildings and in our religious worship. President Hinckley told him that for us the cross symbolized “… the dying Christ, while our message is a declaration of the living Christ.”
“We celebrate His triumph over death and the sacrifice He made that we might be washed clean by His Atonement,” said Elder Cook. “The symbol of Christ for the Latter-day Saints will be found in … the way we live His gospel.”
The Atonement of Christ is the greatest event that has ever occurred in the history of mankind, he added. “All of us have sinned, and it is only through the Atonement that we can obtain mercy and live with God.”
Fourth, anticipate His second coming.
Elder Cook said the second verse of the song “When He Comes Again” evokes some of the tender feelings we might have about His second coming:
“I wonder when He comes again, will I be ready there
To look upon His loving face and join with Him in prayer?
Each day I’ll try to do His will and let my light so shine —
That others seeing me may seek for greater light divine.
Then, when that blessed day is here, He’ll love me and He’ll say,
You’ve served me well, my little child; come unto my arms to stay.”
Fifth, serve the Savior — be His hands.
Elder Cook recalled the story told of an English cathedral that was bombed during the Second World War. By the end of the war many repairs had to be made to the cathedral. There was also a beautiful statue of the Savior, and one of the bombs had blown away the statue’s hands. Initially officials decided to have the statue repaired, but after consideration, decided instead to put a sign next to the handless statue that read, “Christ has no hands but yours.”
Elder Cook said in the Doctrine and Covenants the Savior uses these words,
“Yea, I will open the hearts of the people, and…I will establish a church by your hand” (Doctrine and Covenants 31:7).
The principal way “we can show our gratitude to the Savior for what He has done for us is to be His servant, to in effect be His hands here on Earth,” said Elder Cook.
Finally, love the Lord.
“Our love of God and our fellowmen is the ultimate test of the condition of our spirit,” concluded Elder Cook. “If we love God, we will keep His commandments. And if we love our fellowmen, we will serve them.
“As missionaries we can be valiant in our testimonies of the Savior. I testify to you that He lives. That He is our example — our advocate with the Father — that He atoned for our sins and that we can joyously reenter His presence if we are worthy.”
Show others how to find Jesus
Sister Cook began her remarks by sharing her love of the season when “we celebrate God’s great gift of His Son, Jesus Christ, to the world.”
People’s hearts are more in tune and open at this time of year, she said. “This is a season of gift giving, and your missionary service is a wonderful gift to the Lord. Enjoy the Christmases you spend in the mission field. I guarantee they will be some of the special Christmas memories you will treasure and remember all of your life.”
Sister Cook said when she thinks of Christ-like missionary service, she recalls a story by Ruth Dinkins Rowan titled “The Star.” It is about a mother who went to see the Christmas presentation of her young daughter’s class. The little girl was excited about her part — which was to hold a large tinfoil star high for everyone to see. On the way home the child said, “I had the main part … ‘cause I showed everybody how to find Jesus.”
Sister Cook added: “Dear missionaries, this is what missionaries do; you show everyone how to find Jesus. You are righteous examples of the Savior and His message. We see it in your countenances. To show others how to find Jesus and His restored Church, to be the light for their paths, that is the finest role we can play in life.”